Covid 19 Delta outbreak: All staff at small King Country school refusing vaccine by deadline

By John Gerritsen of RNZ

A small King Country school expects all of its staff will be banned from its classrooms when the Government’s vaccine mandate takes effect next week.

Matiere School is one of several rural schools warning they won’t be able to replace teachers and other workers who refuse to get their first injection by the Monday deadline.

Principal Vanessa Gotz told RNZ her school had three teachers, three support staff and a relief teacher and none were vaccinated.

She said none of her staff intended to get vaccinated by the Monday, November 15, deadline so they would not be allowed at work on Tuesday.

“Some of it is because actually medically they are unable to have it, and the other reason is really we’re being forced. We’re feeling like we’re forced out here, that here we are on the 15th not vaccinated, 16th – hang on a minute you can’t be in front of a class, you can’t take students.”

Gotz said none of the school’s board of trustees was vaccinated either.

She said she was not opposed to getting the vaccination herself, but as the only fully registered teacher she had not been able to take time off to get her shot.

Gotz said even if she was vaccinated, she could not open the school on her own and the school would have to revert to remote or online learning from Tuesday.

She said she doubted anything would persuade her staff to get the injections and she wanted the ministry to waive the vaccination mandate and instead require weekly testing.

The Central King Country Principals’ Association estimated about a third of the staff in the region’s 16 schools were refusing the Covid vaccination.

Association chair Maria Gillard said individual schools would lose between 15 and 75 per cent of their staff next week and it was creating headaches.

“The situation that faces Taumarunui is that we only have one reliever in the whole town. Come next week that one reliever won’t be able to fill all the spots that we’re going to be facing, we’re just going to be doubling up classrooms at this stage or we have to find an alternative but we don’t know what the alternative is.”

She said schools in the area had a lot of trouble hiring teachers at the best of times and they were very worried about replacing staff who refused to be fully vaccinated before the start of next year.

Gillard said a support group had tried to work with those who did not want to be vaccinated, but convincing them to change their minds was tough.

She agreed the situation was making school staffrooms a bit tense.

“It’s really tough and you’ve got to talk about it, you can’t avoid it,” she said.

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush said King Country schools were not alone.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of smaller principals’ associations raise concerns about the absence of staff after the 15th who are not vaccinated. In some instances in small schools that can be very influential in that it can be most of the staff,” he said.

“We’re certainly not looking at large numbers I think in the large urban settings, it’s our small and rural and remote communities that have the biggest challenges because they simply do not have the staffing resource to backfill any loss of teachers from the frontline.”

Rush said there had been a lot of effort to give school staff high-quality information about the vaccine.

Schools now needed clearer guidance about what to do with staff who refused the vaccination.

The Education Ministry also needed to take stock of the situation so it was clear how many schools faced serious staffing problems and it should also provide support to those schools, Rush said.

The ministry’s hautū, Education Workforce, Anna Welanyk, said the overwhelming majority of employees and organisations in the education sector supported the vaccination effort.

“The actual impact of the vaccine mandate on teacher supply will not be known until the vaccination deadline has passed and numbers are clear. In the meantime, regional staff are working with their local school and kura leaders to anticipate supply challenges and agree possible solutions,” she said.

“Established processes for addressing supply challenges already exist and these will be developed further where necessary, to ensure students will be well catered for and services will continue to operate.”

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